An independent think-tank

Dialogue can reduce ideological polarization among students of madrassas and universities

Conflicting notions of Pakistan’s ideology, extremist interpretations of religion and lack of tolerance among most of Pakistanis are at the heart of critical challenges facing Pakistan. Economic decay and dearth of opportunities for Pakistani youth further compound the problem. Students of madrassas and universities expressed these thoughts in a dialogue organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in collaboration with Khudi Pakistan in Islamabad on November 6, 2013.

Students representing madrassas affiliated with different religious educational boards and mainstream universities and colleges also observed that dialogue among students from different educational system should be made an integral part of their learning process in order to overcome ideological polarization and religious and sectarian violence.

Participants agreed that the interactions would provide a platform to the younger generation to find common solutions for the problems that are leading the Pakistani society towards a disaster.

The dialogue was divided into two sessions. The first session emphasized on the major problems faced by Pakistan while the second session was meant to seek students’ responses for the possible solutions of those problems.

Political analyst and writer Raza Rumi chaired the first session. He described the downward trend of intellectual discussions and dialogue in Pakistan unfortunate and said young Pakistanis are surrounded by confusions, most of which are a product of false narratives created by political and religious leaders for their own vested interests. He said Islam advocates equality and has stood up for the rights of the underprivileged in the absence of research, knowledge and the spirit of inquiry, the Pakistanis society has become stagnated.

During the first session, most of the madrassas students underscored the Islamic cause of the establishment of Pakistan and termed Pakistani state’s divergence from this objective a major cause of the problems it faces. Some highlighted the need to update the madrassa curriculum and create employment opportunities for madrassa students. Few others described the importance of following the middle way of Islam while interpreting Islamic legal rulings and applying these in the modern world. Views expressed by the university students were more or less similar with relatively more focus on socioeconomic issues.

Muhammad Rafaqat Jalali, a madrassa student, said Pakistan’s major problem is terrorism. Sajid Mehmood, a student of Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad seconded him and said presence of ‘different competing schools of thought’ in Pakistan is a major hurdle in countering extremism and terrorism. Another QAU student Ziaur Rehman said improper policymaking has deprived citizens of their basic freedoms. He also talked about the lack of youth advocacy programs for students, particularly those from madrassas. “Absence of electoral reforms has led to bad governance and the youth should not only actively participate in electoral process but also try to restructure it,” he added.

Sohail Ahmad, a student of Jamia Muhammadia critically evaluated the role of media and existing education systems in Pakistan, which according to him add to people’s confusion instead of educating them.

Azeem Akhtar from Jamia Salafia, Faisalabad said Pakistan is hurt most by people who force their version of religion on others and because of whom the society has developed a collective lack of tolerance. “We are the victims of extremist mindset, intolerance, and Takfiri ideology,” he argued. He highlighted that importance of national language at primary level, blunt implementation of laws, societal justice, and sexual security of girls.

In the second session, the students of madrassas and universities devised possible solutions of the current problems faced by Pakistan. Rizwan Ali of QAU said religion should be separated from the state affairs. He dubbed the state of Madina, established by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as ‘secular’. He said Pakistan’s problems would be addressed through bringing educational reforms, providing provincial autonomy to provinces, and promoting dialogue as a means for dispute resolution.

Gauhar Rauf, a seminary student, opposed the statement of Rizwan Ali and said religion and politics are not separate in Islam. He said our basic problem is the system of education. “Our religious educational system is outdated, and no research is being done in madrassas,” he added. A QAU student Shakeel Ahmad termed education syllabus as the biggest challenge for Pakistan, which he described as “largely anti-India and intolerant towards minorities.”

Aleem Jan Baloch, a student of QAU, discussed at length the problems facing Balochi people. “A discriminatory quota of 3.5 percent in economy has been granted to Balochistan. Overall picture of Balochistan depicts a sense of deprivation,” he added. He underscored that Balochistan’s problems should be considered as “national” and not merely “provincial”.

Nadeem Abbas of Jamia Al-Kausar said it is the responsibility of the state to identify and punish the killers of 40,000 Pakistani people. He said the Criminal Justice System of Pakistan is flawed.

Journalist Sabookh Syed said in his concluding remarks that the Council on Islamic Ideology is “fake”. It does not fully represent all sects and serves the interests of just one sect. He said that the students of madrassas do their job at societal level while the students of colleges and universities serve at economic level. So, both are equally crucial for the reformation of society. Upon a question from the audience, Mr. Sabookh Syed said that the primary sources of funding for madrassas are the people of Pakistan themselves. The money donated as charity serves as a major source of finance for the madrassas. He, too, urged on the need for dialogue among the students of both systems (the madrassa as well as the universities) for better understanding and interaction at social level.